Dinosaurs are sticky. So are dioramas. And suits of armor, dollhouses, and majestic architecture.
We know these are sticky, as in memorable, from the considerable research we conducted last year on what adult museum-goers remember from their childhood museum experiences.
But what about libraries? Are there similar patterns?
When we conducted our study of libraries last year, we asked respondents to think back to their childhood library experiences, and tell us what they remember. Interestingly, there were some similar patterns.
What do people remember?
Overwhelmingly, books. Looking at books. Reading books. Favorite books.
“I never felt so wonderfully excited as a child when visiting my hometown library The walls and stacks of books full of secrets, adventures and stories of children who went to magical places, heartwarming family stories and imaginary friends all tucked between the shelves. I loved to talk to the librarians about new books and offer my opinion on them.”
And if they were not remembering books, they were remembering actually checking out books.
“I was utterly amazed that I was allowed to take 6 children's books home with me. What was even more astounding was that after I read them, I could turn them in for 6 more. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. ”
The activities and programs that took place in the children’s room were also memorable, as were the tangible rewards of reading programs:
“I remember the summer reading clubs. Every summer would have a new theme, a colored sheet of paper with, say, a haunted house background, and then every week I'd give a short report on what I read and get stickers. There were some prizes/event at the end, which I can't remember, but, man, I loved the theme sheets and stickers.”
Just like in our museum work, the scale of a library could be extremely memorable. People talked about grand buildings, miles of books, and the stories hidden away within those books.
“It smelled wonderful. Like old books and wood. There were large glass windows and high, high ceilings. The books went on forever!”
Of course, librarians were memorable as well. While most librarians were remembered fondly,
“Very supportive children's librarian, who would ask me ‘Where are you going this week?’ I was going places in my mind and imagination. And the librarian knew it!”
some were not,
“I hated it! It was very scary place and librarians were very mean. I always felt like I was bothering them if I had a question.”
There was one other area that was hugely memorable – that first library card. We’ll explore that more in our next post.
So what did we learn about library memories, and how do these memories help us think about museum experiences? Overall, the memories were similar.
- While library memories are overwhelmingly about books, museum memories are about the fantastic objects that museums care for. Collections, whether books or rocks, are memorable.
- Grand architecture and immense scale are common themes, and do not appear to be at all forbidding to young children, but instead delight and intrigue.
- Small, tangible mementos, such as stickers and ribbons, are retained or remembered from libraries, and small items given to children visiting museums (such as that length of silk thread, given to me at an exhibition on China, that I have held onto for 25 years) are also treasured.
- The kindness of a librarian, or a museum employee, can be a wonderful thing.
These similar themes reinforce how important these “sticky” experiences are for children, and while not every museum is going to be able to hit all four memory hot buttons, it is worth considering how your museum is maximizing your sticky opportunities to ensure that young children today grow up with positive museum experiences to remember over the decades to come.
So what do you think? What are your earliest library memories? To share your thoughts, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)